After an initial run of 10,000 bottles of a reincarnated Pic-A-Pop in late 2005, the owner of the iconic soft drink brand is hoping to sell 500,000 bottles this year. He's banking on many consumers wanting to reconnect with their childhoods and harken back to trips to the Pic-A-Pop store where they'd fill up plastic orange crates with Cream Soda, Lemon Lime and Blue Raspberry and grab a bottle opener so they could tickle their tastebuds with their favourite discount soda.
But enabling customers to step into their own private time machines has proven more difficult than Hruda originally thought. Even though he has the recipes for the more than 40 flavours produced by Pic-A-Pop over its quarter-century run that began out of Winnipeg in 1971 -- plus numerous still-capped bottles of pop from before it shut down in 1996 -- nailing down the precise taste and colours has been tricky. Most of the suppliers that provided ingredients to the original Pic-A-Pop are no longer in business.
He likened the constant experimentation to having a family recipe for chocolate chip cookies. "Even though everybody else in your family has it, somehow your mom's cookies are always a little better," he said.
Hruda is confident a new relationship with Angostura Canada, which has been producing and bottling the product for a couple of months, has enabled him to come as close as possible to recreating the authentic taste, look and feel of Pic-A-Pop. He said his previous co-packing arrangement with Hanover Springs Ltd., a water bottler in Marchand, Man., was fine during the early days but it didn't work when production requirements ramped up.
Hruda said he was confident of working with Angostura because of its co-packing arrangments with some of the biggest beverage companies in the world.
"If Smirnoff says Angostura is capable of bottling their product, I felt Pic-A-Pop was in pretty good hands," he said.
Horace Bhopalsingh, president of Angostura Canada, said the next batch of Pic-A-Pop will start rolling off its lines before the end of the month. He said he was interested in Hruda's pitch in part because the plant had some excess capacity but also because Pic-A-Pop would be yet another unique product on its shelf.
"Pic-A-Pop is a Manitoba icon, it's nostalgic for a lot of people," he said.
Bhopalsingh said his staff is focused on ensuring the Pic-A-Pop recipes are of high quality and consistency.
"We've worked with Bart to develop and enhance all the flavours and make them better tasting. We introduced the new bottle and referred him to a label supplier. It was a total makeover of the product," he said.
The ressurection of Pic-A-Pop began in 2004 when Hruda was running a pair of Sugar Mountain candy stores, which specialized in retro treats. He said he received so many requests for Pic-A-Pop that he tracked down its last owner in Texas and offered to carry the line if he would relaunch it. The man was retired and not interested in re-entering the beverage game, so he offered to sell the brand to Hruda, who quickly agreed. The first bottles of Pic-A-Pop reappeared on store shelves in the fall of 2005.
Today, Pic-A-Pop is sold at 135 retailers in Manitoba, ranging from Zellers to the Park Theatre to St. Anne's Convenience Store, plus a few dozen more locations in Saskatchewan and northwestern Ontario.
"A lot of transplanted Manitobans in Alberta have contacted me. Our ultimate goal is to see it expand a bit more," he said.
One major difference between now and then is today's Pic-A-Pop has been positioned as a premium brand, selling for about $1.50 a bottle. Even though it's geared towards consumers in their 30s and 40s, Hruda said the younger generation drinks it, too, although their motivation is different.
"They often buy the colour, 'I'll have a pink one or I'll have a blue one,'" he said.